Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Nozzle

Walk the neighborhoods in Southern California and discover the trees dying from an extended drought or be an eyewitness to flooding in the streets of Scottsdale, Arizona, or enjoy the wonderful frequency of rain in Michigan that waters the shrubs so that underground sprinkling need not operate. 

I find a metaphor here that helps any of us consider our hearts and attitudes in times of hardship, abundance or "just enough." In any of the above situations, there is opportunity to examine ourselves. 

What happens to my heart of stewardship when through my eyes, there aren't enough finances available to express gratefulness to God through offering or charitable contribution? When abundance comes through inheritance or salary increases, do I first consider how I can distribute God's abundance to me to others in need? Does complacency take over when a steady flow of income allows me to determine an amount each year and then just "let it flow" unconsciously and without hardship?   

Circumstances certainly have a way of influencing our hearts and responses. Thanking God for his abundance in all circumstances is a challenge to the depraved heart. 


Let's commit to not turning off the nozzle on the end of the hose of flowing resources regardless of the stream of abundance we humanly observe. God doesn't stop caring and providing even when you think you don't have enough. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tug of War

Participating in various physical and mental activities takes on many forms; from the physical intensity of tug of war to the mind bending strategy demanded in Game of Thrones. We start early with sports camps, music camps, wilderness vacations and exploring new places. The games we play, the places we travel and the books we read can all teach us stewardship lessons.

Take tug of war. How tight is your grip? How bad do you want to win? Who do you pick for your team mate? Someone with endurance or the short-termer with big muscles? One helps you win quickly, while the other helps you endure for the long haul.

When it comes to stewardship, we make a commitment in our heart to both enjoy God’s abundance and give from our resources to bring justice and healing to brokenness and pain; living out Micah 3 to walk humbly with our God and seek justice.

A recent reading of Jeff Manion’s book, Satisfied, helped me gain a stronger grip on stewardship. The day-to-day tug of war between being satisfied and comparing my situation to those who appear to “have it better” is wearing. My heart often crosses the line into discontent and selfishness.


But the knowledge of God’s great gift of salvation turns me to gratitude for His saving grace. Eliminating competitors for my heart demands commitment, endurance and a strong desire to keep God on my side of the rope—where His grip on me is made complete. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Stewardship Lessons from Zambia

A first glimpse into the neighborhoods near Lusaka, Zambia, the real beauty of the compounds goes unnoticed by my American eyes. The signs and smells of apparent poverty consume the senses. Careful to not assume or judge, I wanted to understand how – in this challenging setting – a person understands the concept of stewardship of God’s abundance.  My initial impressions of this neighborhood were false. This was not a place of limited resources and people who were both poor in spirit and lacking daily sustenance. 

My wondering mind tried to project; how does a person living in Kanyama view the scriptures that address first fruits for God? My American lens saw shortfall and great need. My American heart wondered how I would view my creator God if I spent every day in the compound of Kanyama. Getting out of the bus with fellow muzungu (white people) raised many more questions and reactions: “Why this experience, Lord?” “What do you have for me to learn today?” 

Time and reflection provided the refraction needed to consider these questions. 

Reading from the book of Hebrews during this trip provided some insight. In Heb. 10 we have insight; we are made holy, not by our sacrifices and offerings but through the body of Jesus on the cross.   John Calvin’s commentary describes “right stewardship” as that which is tested by the rule of love.  Check out 1 Sam 15: 22; the Lord delights in our obedient hearts. 

Repeated trips into Kanyama - with corrective lenses - revealed a culture that places people above time and tasks. Hospitality reigns in these homes.   Careful observation reveals children playing with sticks and old hubcaps, street vendors creatively displaying their crafts and colorful vegetables, and teachers who share their time and resources with their students and offer their wisdom and time to families who needed encouragement.  A community spirit thrives in Kanyama. Loving your neighbor, even the muzungus who dropped in now and then, seems a better understanding of stewardship and the rule of love described in Hebrews. 

The material riches of the people of Kanyama are shared in community to support family and neighbors alike. Enough for each day – enough for each child and neighbor – comes in ways not that unusual or surprising when the American “scales” fall off.

Stewardship lessons – whether in Zambia, Israel or America – are available to the awakening heart.
Stewardship is richer by far in the context of possessing a heart for God, His people, and gratefulness for God’s saving grace. Abundance is not found in resources alone, but in God’s unconditional love. Eyes to see God in others and hope in difficult settings; these contribute to a deeper understanding of stewardship.  

In gratefulness for my new friends in Zambia. Your hospitality and resourcefulness are a testimony of God’s love.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Cousins

 Here we are again—nearing the end of tax season. For many people, these final days leading up to submitting taxes is full of angst. We look over our income and investments, consider our charitable contributions and check tax records to make sure we are getting all our possible deductions. 

Tax season raises many questions for me. Did I give enough to charity this year? Is 10% of gross or net the real goal? Should I lower my standard of living and give the rest to non-profits who have real impact? Am I grateful for what taxes provide for me? Do I trust the system that operates all around me for how taxes are distributed? Are my elected officials using common sense?

For me so many questions do not have clear answers. At what point do I trust first and expect that common sense follows closely behind?

Are trust and common sense distant cousins, much like taxes and philanthropy? Is asking the right questions, at least during tax season, an opportunity to find the new normal for acknowledging God's abundance to me and thinking through best practices for supporting charities?

We know God clearly created humankind with hearts of compassion and minds for critical thinking. We are obligated by obedience to God to resolve these questions, as part of the process of God's sanctifying work in me and the world.


Tax season is complicated far beyond the question of “How much do I owe this year?” Let's continue talking, researching, voting appropriately and keeping stewardship a top value in our lives.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The situations around us—and what really matters

Circumstance. 

At first glance, it is a bit of an odd word—until you consider its etymology. First, take “stance,” meaning sense of position or place of feet. “Stance” points us, ultimately, to our situation. When combined with the prefix “circum,” we see how the full word refers to our “surrounding” situation.

As I gain a healthier biblical perspective about God's abundance to me, I've needed to make the transition from looking with judgment at other people’s situations to honestly looking at my own situation before God. I need to be on guard of the way my sinful nature has a tendency to look at other's circumstances and make a judgment call.

When comparing God's abundance to me verses those who appear to have so much more than me, my stance becomes jealous and creates an attitude I'm not proud of. Quite the opposite happens when I look at the circumstances of others who experience much less privilege than I do. Now I feel blessed—almost prideful—
and satisfied with my circumstances. My stance becomes a bit more entitled.  

Both stances are out of line with biblical mandate. God knows my heart, and He desires that I consider my stance before Him alone. My sacrifice of resources should not be about obligation or entitlement, but rather my heartfelt response of obedience and worship.

My circumstances, and yours, don't matter as much as the fact that God knows our hearts and He desires that we offer who we are and what we have fully to him. Furthermore, let’s remember that God's abundance flows to all, though circumstances vary greatly. 

My hope is that today we recognize that everything belongs to the Lord and gratefully manage His resources for the good of His kingdom.    



Thursday, January 16, 2014

Trust God, not the familiar


My frequent travels to LA, the metropolis of Houston or the Canadian countryside are made possible with the aid of Google Maps and the “show traffic” option. Finding my way around traffic or through shortcuts is made so much easier with vehicles that have GPS installed. I have become dependent on these assistive devices in unfamiliar situations as well as familiar.

I am confident I can get around any obstacle that may come my way: accident, traffic jam or construction zone. Trusting the familiar takes over most of my daily decisions and activities, not just my driving. I often rely on my personal knowledge and experience, rather than God’s leading.

We have a desire and resolve to trust God for all things, which we often exercise in times of new experiences. But learning to rely on Him in situations that are familiar is often our biggest challenge.

Recently our household revisited our plan for financial stewardship for 2014. We fell into our familiar pattern of looking over our past support and talking through increases or changes. It took some additional, intentional conversation to consider how we would trust God for the unknowns along the way. It’s easier to apply the 10% rule and tithe to favorite organizations than it is to determine a point of impact and sacrifice in our stewardship plan, agreeing to trust God for all the unknowns that will come in 2014.

When we know the way, we behave in a familiar way. But when a new season of life or dramatic change comes to our journey, it seems more compelling—desirable even—to reassess and consider if this is an opportunity for trusting God for what’s ahead.
 

Can I be resolute for trusting God in all the familiar spaces and not just the new situations? Can I trust God’s abundance when I think I know the way already? 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Circumstances and gratitude

When he bought the house, James knew about needed repairs. He researched the repair costs, anticipated the financial demand, and knew of the time and patience it would take to restore his new home. Still, his enthusiasm around the purchase remained high; he was pleased with himself and the plans he made. And the circumstances surrounding the purchase were just as he expected.

That is, until move-in day.

Placing storage boxes in the basement revealed that, in the month since purchasing the home, the foundation cracks had grown and revealed a larger problem that couldn’t be ignored. Suddenly, gratitude for this home turned into disappointment, frustration and self-doubt.

Surprising circumstances often shake our faith foundations too. When suddenly confronted with the unexpected, we respond by diminishing our core values and commitments. Finding solutions that will return us to a place of comfort and control can take priority over trust and gratitude. Disappointment often reduces our sense of gratitude for the resources of time, energy and wealth that we enjoy daily.

Disappointment is part of my everyday life, and I imagine that is true for you too. Circumstances for all of us also change frequently. Families grow, cars need repairs, tuition increases and purchases can’t wait. The question is; what gives? When car repairs demand more of the tight budget, we grab dollars from our “first fruits” meant for church or various non-profits.

But foundational values of trust, faithfulness, obedience and stewardship are non-circumstantial. We rob ourselves of opportunities to see God’s miracles at work when we suspend our commitments in favor of doing it ourselves. Gratitude is foundational, not circumstantial.
  
I encourage you to count your blessings this Thanksgiving and to include all your circumstances in that list.